Over the past few years as I gain more and more experience in not only building software and products but also in leading teams and projects…
Today a blog post titled "Trial Week: Our Hiring Secret" has made to the Hacker News homepage. I naively tweeted my dislike and now I feel obligated to share my thoughts in a more meaningful and constructive way.
First of all, congratulations to the Weebly team, as this trial week strategy is clearly working very well for them.
I, on the other hand, am against using a trial week for vetting candidates, and I am going to share my thoughts.
Let this serve as a reminder to the rest of us: every organisation and team is different, so think carefully before committing to a given strategy.
In Australia, a full time employee typically gets four weeks of annual leave, with one or two weeks of which used up for the Christmas / New year down time. We are looking at asking candidates to spend 33-50% of their vacation time to commit to a trial week for one company - a terrible ROI (Return On Investment) from the candidate’s perspective if you ask me.
Candidates who are currently employed, with multiple offers from other organisations are more likely to skip the trial week - from experience, this is often the higher quality candidate pool.
Of course, since the trial week is paid for, the employee could always take unpaid leave from their current employer.
Given the trial only lasts a week - we better make it count! That means one or more current developers need to be assigned to take care of the trial developer - pairing and walking through existing systems, etc. This is assuming we are going to act responsibly, and not simply just direct the trial developers to their desks and ask them to "go for it".
From my experience of on-boarding new developers, it typically takes 4-8 weeks for a developer to become productive and effective in a new work environment.
According to Weebly, candidates are assigned with a project that is small enough to do in a week, but still resembles what the candidate would be doing if hired. It sounds great if it works, but for many organisations this is unfeasible, for instance:
Either way, with one week of trial, the candidate is unlikely to have enough time to contribute as well as to be integrated into the team culture.
Weebly at the end of their blog post writes:
Our hire rate out of trial week is around 66%, which feels like the right level.
I respectfully disagree. A 66% hire rate from the trial week is a 34% failure rate on the pre-trial week recruitment process, and this is significant.
Which brings us to…
Where I work, we have a simple, three-step recruitment process:
Step 2 and 3 are sometimes swapped. And we also check out the candidate’s Github account if available, and their past projects if public.
In the code challenge we vet the candidate’s problem-solving ability, software design sense, code quality, code style and ethics (it’s easy to tell whether they cheated).
During the chat we vet the candidate’s project experience, depth of knowledge, breadth of knowledge, communication skill and culture fit.
In the pairing session we vet the candidate’s development practice, thought process and the ability to articulate.
By the end of the three steps we are usually pretty confident on +1 or -1 to hire the candidate. If we aren’t, it’s a -1.
But hold on, didn’t I mention one week is not enough for a candidate to be productive and effective? Yes! And that’s why most places have a three-month probation.
The difference between the long probation period and the short trial period, is not only in duration, but more importantly in commitment. In my opinion, only when both parties are committed can you achieve great result.
So, let’s hear your say, what do you think? :)